Red Hat wants to accelerate the rate at which Linux devotees can use open source code to create hundreds or even thousands of virtual machines in their data centers and manage them with just a handful of administrators.
The vendor last week pledged support for Xen 3.0, the open source virtualization software, in its upcoming Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. Xen already works with Linux servers on a one-off basis. But Red Hat is pushing closer alignment between Xen and Linux so that management tools can be placed on top of virtualized servers, letting IT staff manage them as a group, reconfigure individual virtual machines, and reassign resources such as memory and CPU power.
Such virtualization capabilities are needed to consolidate Linux servers, boost hardware utilization, and run Linux servers as hosts for combinations of Windows and Linux virtual machines in the data center.
This week at its Brainshare conference, SUSE Linux distributor Novell, which tapped Xen as its virtualization standard earlier this year, will detail its plans to support Xen in an upcoming SUSE release. Novell is slated to ship SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 this spring, so it could beat Red Hat to market by building in Xen hypervisor. VMware, the leading commercial virtualization software, offers tools to create and manage virtual machines on Linux and Windows servers.
Red Hat will supply tools to configure and deploy virtual machines under Linux, but it's looking to third-party vendors, including XenSource, the commercial company that supports Xen 3.0, to provide higher-level management tools. "If we don't provide a solid base level of capability [interfacing Xen to the Linux kernel], that next level up won't happen," warns Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens.
It's unclear if a Xen interface will be accepted for incorporation into the Linux kernel by the time Red Hat debuts its next Linux release at year's end. Stevens says it's likely Red Hat will need to supply a Xen interface itself, which Red Hat will make compatible with whatever emerges through the Linux standard committal process.
Intel and AMD joined Red Hat in backing Xen as an open source virtualization standard. Hooks the companies will build into advanced chips will allow Xen to sit atop the hardware resources of a server and divide them among virtual machines, avoiding the 20% to 30% overhead associated with earlier forms of virtualization software.